Please note that this story contains references to the film The Vanishment of Haruhi Suzumiya.
I was frustrated. I was confused.
It was about Nagato.
I tried not to let it get to me too much, but the subject always crept into my mind when I didn't have anything else to think about. For quite a while now, I had been trying to get our otherworldly companion to expand on or even just discuss the emotions I now knew she possessed. What I was aiming for – which I hoped she would eventually aim for, too – was slow in coming, as could only be expected. That is, I wanted to see her learn to express herself, however gradual the process might be.
I had my worries, however. I was reminded every time I observed Nagato sitting quietly in the corner, her eyes steadfastly following the words on the pages of a book, that she had been made this way, to be solitary and to wear a blank look. I didn't exactly like the idea, obviously, but if that is how she was…programmed…then who was to say that could be changed?
But despite this, after seeing Nagato's reactions to things that happened around her, I would then be reminded that perhaps there is hope. "Reactions" might be stretching it a bit, but I almost feel I can call them that now because I've gotten better at reading her eyes, even if just slightly. For example, when Haruhi is being rowdy, Asahina-san is starting to cry and Koizumi is sitting there smiling for no reason, Nagato will look up for a moment and observe the scene with something akin to disdain at the noise. When Haruhi asks (more like demands) her to do something completely unreasonable, like walk around the room in circles for ten minutes straight to test out some weird theory, I can see her eyes harden a little. And when she's playing a computer game, or explaining some topic to me that she finds interesting, or standing at the window and looking at the sunset at the end of a long day, there is a definite sense of contentment and…dare I say it…happiness about her.
Those are the times when I believe that if Nagato can develop hidden feelings, she can develop the ability to express them, as well. And not just in some artificial way, with an empty smile or a flat frown, but by putting her emotions into the actions…naturally. I keep trying to convince myself that I am not expecting too much by believing in this. After all, the fact that she has allowed her mood to show in her eyes is a pretty great accomplishment in itself.
The only problem is, Nagato considers her feelings to be "errors", and from what I know, has been trying to use her foreign technology to suppress them. It hasn't seemed to be too effective though, at least from my point of view. I guess her will to be more like humans always wins out. She knows that I for one would be happier to see her not suppress her emotions, because I've told her so. And maybe it's just me, but she seems to like seeing me happy…
But this isn't about my happiness. This is about hers.
I won't lie – it scares me somewhat, the mere amount of time I spend thinking about the whole situation. I guess I really have grown to care about Nagato, even though there have been times in the past when it's been challenging to endure her serious, silent company. But it's easier now. These days I try to encourage her to talk to me if something is bothering her – not just to me, really; anyone would do. I just hope I don't sound like a therapist or something.
Maybe it's all because the smile I witnessed on the face of the other Nagato is something I wouldn't mind seeing again. I admit that I'm kind of afraid it will haunt me as a one-time occurrence forever. Because it really did suit her, as much as it dumbfounded me at first. But Nagato was still hesitant about it all, and my thoughts kept rolling back and forth between what might be possible and what might not be.
I was confused. And frustrated. And a little angry at the world, too. The universe, to be more exact.
Late one afternoon, it was just Nagato and myself in the clubroom. Haruhi and Koizumi had just left to go home; Haruhi, in boredom, had declared the meeting over, and Asahina-san was out sick that day. Nagato was at her corner chair, sliding her book of the day into her bag while I stood by the table pulling my school jacket back on. Before it was completely hidden amid textbooks and binders, I caught sight of the author's name printed on the book's cover. It was that of a prominent mystery writer, the only reason I knew anything about him being because my father owned a few of his books.
I walked over to her as she stood up. "Nagato, I didn't know you'd started reading mystery novels." I gestured at the bag she now held at her side.
She nodded. "Yes. They are…" She paused. "…suspenseful."
Well, that was only to be expected of such stories. But still, the fact that she was feeling the suspense to some degree was something to appreciate. At least it was more specific than "interesting", which is the word she's used so many times in the past and which I had honestly been expecting to hear once again.
"That doesn't surprise me. That author is supposed to be one of the best in the genre. But you probably already knew that, huh?"
"Yes. He received the highest ratings out of any other mystery writer both this year and the last. Multiple scans of both external and my own internal databases confirm it."
"…I see." When it comes down to it, mystery did seem to be a genre that suited intelligent, logical Nagato. She's the type who can easily read between the lines and predict things correctly 99% of the time based on the evidence. In addition to that, she was probably mulling over why humans murder each other, kidnap each other, and do all the strange things they do. Those sorts of things are tragic in their own right, but I know Nagato finds them fascinating on some level. It's sad, really.
"So, how far are you into the story?"
"I am close to halfway through."
"Have you figured out who committed the crime, or did the deed, or whatever it was?" It wouldn't surprise me in the least if she had. I just hoped she hadn't cheated and looked up the ending in her database or something.
She looked thoughtful for a moment, but then shook her head. "No. At the present time I have narrowed it down to two suspects, although it has been mentioned that more characters will be introduced as well."
"Is that so. Well, do you like it?"
Nagato paused again. After all this time, I think it's still difficult for her sometimes to admit out loud that she has likes and dislikes. Now that she can feel more easily than she used to, she seems to think that she has to monitor what she says more closely. It's another habit I wish she would break.
"…yes," she finally uttered, slowly.
I was glad that she'd had the courage to say that. I knew it must have been taking her a lot of courage to go against how the Entity originally intended for her to think, even though I knew that if I was to point this out, she would give me an explanation that didn't even remotely involve the word "courage". "Good, good," I said, trying to smile, but after that there was a somewhat awkward silence. I wasn't sure what else to say on the topic of the book, or about anything else, really. Not that I necessarily needed to; it was late in the day and about time we both went home.
But something seemed odd – or maybe not odd, but just different – about Nagato. I saw her fingers clutch the handle of her bag more tightly, and her gaze shifted from me to the window, where she stared out almost absently. Something was bothering her. I've seen her space out in deep thought before, but not when someone is talking to her.
"…is something on your mind, Nagato?" I asked hesitantly.
Her eyes moved back from the window to meet mine again. Nagato has always been good at looking people square in the eye, showing everyone how unflinching she is, but this time something in her eyes was troubled. "I am fine," she replied. When she saw I wasn't fooled, she went on to say, "Although it is a good story, much of the characters' behavior is irrational, much like in other works of fiction, throughout history, and also like that which we see in Haruhi Suzumiya. There are always different kinds of motives for the actions of life forms, but…so many are fueled by raw emotion alone. I know that emotion is a powerful force in human beings, but what it causes them to do often makes little sense," she finished.
Oh. So that's what she was thinking about. I had to thoughtfully consider how to respond. I thought about a time not so long ago, when Nagato had secretly grown so fed up with not being able to freely speak her mind or let us know when she was hurting, and had therefore gone and altered our universe. And as extreme an act as that had been, it was understandable as to why she did it. It was easy to put those pieces together. She couldn't tell me that she hadn't been compelled by her own vague, hidden feelings then. But it was true that people did things out of frustration or sorrow or even joy that seemed unexplainable; Haruhi was a good example of that indeed. But what was I supposed to say? I mean, I think about the weirdness of people from time to time too, but since I was born into it, I don't dwell on it like Nagato does.
"Well…as I'm sure you've noticed, people are pretty complicated," I slowly began. "People don't always think before they act. They don't even know logic in those moments. You're right; emotion is powerful, but it can't always be…interpreted. I'm afraid there's no other way to really explain it."
Nagato nodded, looking as pensive as ever. I had a feeling she could muse over and try to analyze this one forever, but still be unable to assess it in the way she was used to.
"Try not to overthink it," I suggested. "Even if…even if you're still new to all this emotion stuff, you can't think too hard on it. Feelings are things that just come to you, and…that's it."
"I will try not to 'overthink it'," she replied, nodding once more. "But…it is still not natural for me, and it was more convenient when I did not have these…afflictions."
Here we go… I knew that if I continued to talk, I would only get bogged down in one of Nagato's stubborn arguments about how she could never be able to express emotions because she simply wasn't meant to. Since she's always been so unshakable in her beliefs – beliefs which she likes to call "facts", of course – I was startled when, the last couple of times we'd talked about this, she'd actually seemed to try considering my counterarguments and my…hope for her, I guess. Somewhere deep down, I think she wants to feel that hope herself. At the very least, I had to be thankful that she values my opinions in the first place. But I had the feeling that she was secretly scared, too…scared of changing. It would be a real shame if she allowed that to outweigh her will to be the person she wanted to be.
The person I had been so sure she wanted to be…
I watched her carefully, suddenly feeling very anxious. She seemed to know that her statement wasn't going to get a good reaction out of me – though she was looking straight at me, her eyes had lost some of their firmness and looked almost sad. I knew that inside, she was very confused, but if she gave up trying…
The thought just gave me another reason to be angry at her creator all over again.
I took a deep, heavy-hearted breath. "Nagato," I began. "Please tell me the truth. Do you want to be able to show what you feel more freely, like we do? Do you want to feel at all?" It had to be asked, even though I knew I might not like the answer, or that the answer might take me some time to decipher.
But Nagato didn't say a word. She just continued staring at me. It must have been a difficult question for her, something I should have expected. But I wouldn't take my eyes away from her face; this was Nagato, after all, and Nagato never left a question unanswered. She, and the rest of the room, were now bathed in the soft light that emanated from the setting sun outside, casting everything in a golden tint. It made her resemble some divine being come to Earth, which really looked rather nice, and the whole moment would have been serene if I hadn't been feeling so much tension.
After what felt to me like much too long a time, Nagato opened her mouth to speak, our gazes still locked. I braced myself for whatever she might say. But then, she closed her mouth, and looked off to the side and out the window again.
I no longer knew what to think or to say. If she wouldn't answer me, was that a 'no'? Was it that she was afraid of disappointing me? When she wouldn't move again, I finally tore my eyes away from her and down to the floor. I couldn't understand why she didn't say something, anything at all, even though now I was nearly convinced I knew her answer. I clenched my teeth, glaring at the floorboards and fighting the hurt that it all brought. I had wanted to see Nagato succeed so much…
It was then that something caught my eye – a drop of water hitting the floor between our feet. Absently wondering if the roof was leaking, I dragged my view upwards, heaving a quiet sigh.
That sigh was immediately lost, however, as what I saw literally took my breath away. Nagato was looking back at me, but to my great astonishment, there were now tears running down her cheeks. Rivers of them. They streamed down, a few dripping off her chin, and through my shock I wondered if she was showing me an illusion somehow, or if I was dreaming, or if the roof was leaking, but only over Nagato's head. Despite the tears however, her face remained blank, making the sight somewhat eerie.
I knew I must have been gaping like a fish, but I didn't care. When I dared to take a breath, which came out small and shaky, I asked, "Nagato…are you…crying?" The question sounded so wrong in my ears, and I found it difficult to raise my voice above a choked whisper.
She blinked. Then her face was taken over by that caught-off-guard look she gets occasionally, and she gradually brought her hands up and pressed her fingers to her cheeks. I stood rooted to my spot, frozen, watching. Then she lowered her hands, wet with the new and unfamiliar substance, and just looked at them for long moments. Her eyes went wider than I'd ever seen them before, so apparently this astounded her just as much as it did me.
My mind was racing as I tried to fathom what was going on – had she really, truly just learned to cry? My heart started hammering when I considered the second option, that something in our conversation had caused her to start literally breaking down. No, no, no…if that happened I didn't know what I'd do. Well, I did actually – I'd use my secret weapon, of course – but the thought of Nagato leaving us was still upsetting.
At long last she looked up at me again, still appearing as stunned as I felt. I swallowed. "Nagato…? Please tell me what's happening." My voice was now a croak.
The sunbeams falling in on us glinted off of her wet face. I was relieved to hear her voice again, even though what she said didn't make immediate sense to me.
"Yes," she said, slowly, clearly.
"Yes…?" I repeated dumbly.
"Yes, I believe I am…crying. But also…" There was a pause, but it didn't linger long, and she continued in the same monotone voice. "…yes, I…would like to…"
She never finished her sentence. Her face twisted a little bit – into a bittersweet smile, and the tears flowed afresh. All the emotions in existence, it seemed, began to pass over her face – joy, sorrow, anger, worry, shock, and anything and everything in between. It was all there. All of it. The amazement I felt was indescribable at what was unfolding before me, and I was sure my own expression was one to behold. And the whole time, Nagato continued crying, silently, and gazing straight at me.
She didn't need to finish what she had started to say. I already knew. It was as if a taut string inside of me had just snapped, and my tension gradually began to fade. I didn't know how or why she had suddenly exploded with this great display of emotion, but I couldn't believe it could be a bad thing. At the same time, half of me wondered if I was really was dreaming and if so, I was determined to remember this as the most vivid dream I had ever had.
I watched Nagato until her weeping died down, but she didn't make a move to wipe her damp face. Her expression settled into the smallest of smiles. It mirrored the one her alternate had worn on that day so long ago, and quite frankly, its sweetness was blowing my mind. Once I found my voice again, a process that took an extra moment or two, I rasped out, "What…"
She took a deep breath – another thing I couldn't recall seeing her do before – and began speaking, though in the same soft yet flat tone she's always used. "I would like to…be affected by the world and exhibit my thoughts in the way you all do." A shiver then seemed to run through her body, but the smile never faltered. "I have never directly told myself that before. It seems to have altered my system further, and to have triggered what you just now observed in me."
I nodded my head, and realizing that my mouth still hung partway open, quickly shut it. In some strange way, even considering that Nagato was a foreign being who operated by a whole different set of rules, that made sense. So this was the first time she had admitted the fact, even though I was sure she had been fighting with herself about it for quite some time.
"You'll be all right, won't you?" I asked, my voice gaining some of its strength back. "The Data Entity won't do anything drastic to you, will it?" As far as I was concerned, if Nagato could overcome part of the Entity's programming of her, it should really just give up and leave her alone. For good, if I could have my way.
At that, her smile became a bit sad. "I cannot determine what its plans for me might be. I am certain it will not find the disruptions favorable. Anything could come to pass."
At that moment, I found myself feeling more brave and more defiant against Nagato's maker than I could ever remember being. I would happily go and beat it to a pulp if it were only possible. Frowning, I shook my head furiously and then reached forward, placing my hands on her shoulders and looking her in the eye. "The Entity may call them 'disruptions', but you don't have to," I told her firmly. "I know I can only say so much to convince you, but now you can – I mean, you have a whole new potential now. More than ever. Instead of calling this an error, call it your greatest success yet. You're not the 'what' you think you are; you're a 'who'." Geez, that last part sounded almost too dramatic to come out of the mouth of a guy like me, but at the moment I could have cared less. I just hoped it hadn't sounded too harsh. Nagato was staring up at me with eyes that were still shiny from crying. I could feel the last of the day's heat that poured through the windows warming my hands and back. I paused in what I was saying, and then gave her a smirk. "And anyway, you already know what I'll do if worst comes to worst and something happens to you. You have nothing to worry about."
Nagato's eyes remained fixed on me, and she blinked a few times. The streaks on her face left behind by her tears had dried. I let go of her shoulders and straightened back up. And waited. For what, I wasn't sure.
The tears returned. But so did the smile. I grinned back, and this time, feeling bold, I reached out and used my thumb to wipe some of those tears away. Nagato really did have a nice smile, small and humble though it was. And it seemed my words had gotten through to her. If this reaction she was showing wasn't evidence, I didn't know what was.
"I must ask you something," Nagato said. Her voice still hadn't changed from its usual tone, but I decided I wouldn't be surprised if it did one day. I felt I had reason now to believe that it could.
I nodded. "I'm listening."
"You have wanted to help and to know me for a long time now. Until recently I did not truly understand why. Now I believe I am comprehending the 'friendship' between us which you once spoke of. Thus, my question is this: by your consent, may we always…'be there' for one another?"
I found myself to be, and not for the first time since this conversation began, speechless. I already knew what my answer was; it was just so unbelievable and oddly thrilling to hear Nagato asking such a thing. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered if I should feel honored to be the one being asked. But I also sensed that I didn't have the right to feel that way; it wasn't like Nagato had a handful of people she liked talking to and had specially chosen me for this. Nope. I was the only one.
The point was, she valued the friendship we held. How long she had, I couldn't say. But that was beside the point.
I nodded at her resolutely. "Of course. Why wouldn't we? I think we've come so far that me saying 'no' would just be ridiculous." And the road hasn't ended yet, I mentally added.
I could tell that my consent, as she'd called it, made Nagato very happy. I knew because aside from the smile that I was in so much awe of, her eyes grew a whole lot brighter, never mind the duskiness that was starting to overtake the room. And it was then that, all at once, I felt compelled to do something.
"Hey, Nagato…um, do you mind if…I hug you?" Now I was the one asking unexpected questions. I had no idea why it mattered so much right then, but…maybe a hug was just something Nagato needed. For however many years she might remain on this earth, she would need one, even if it was the only one she ever got. The question felt a bit unusual to ask, but this was Nagato, and I didn't want to do something like that without letting her know first.
Her eyes went wide by just a fraction, and time abruptly came to a stop. Realizing just how straightforward and out of the blue my request must have sounded, I began to inwardly panic, and hastily I began preparing myself for any reaction she might have and any awkward explanation I might have to give. But when she did speak, all those thoughts were cast aside. "Yes."
Swallowing whatever apprehension I may have had left – I was the one who had asked for this, after all – I took a step forward and carefully wrapped my arms around her. Nagato is what I would classify as one of the smaller teenage girls, if not downright petite, and even though I'm not that much bigger, I suddenly felt like I was. She was warm, which surprised me for some reason, and I could feel strands of her hair brushing against my temple. She had gone very stiff, however, and I was praying earnestly that I wouldn't step back to find that I had broken her somehow, a fear I wanted to discard but couldn't. But as I was about to release her and face the unknown consequences of my action, I felt her hand gingerly touch my back.
That was all I needed to tell me that things were going to be all right. I couldn't predict the future, of course, and I didn't know what events awaited either Nagato or myself, but I just had that gut feeling. How the rest of the SOS Brigade would react to the changes in Nagato, so long as she decided to make them known, I couldn't say for sure, but it didn't matter. We would deal with that tomorrow. For now, it was good just to remain in the embrace for a few moments longer.
She obviously wasn't ready to say a lot of things, including how much I knew I meant to her. But maybe someday she would be.
I'd been debating on whether to write this story for quite a while. Listening to the soundtrack from the movie and getting sad over Yuki's situation all over again finally pushed me to do it. It was also partially inspired from a few of the countless Kyon/Yuki pictures I have saved on my computer. I initially imagined it as a pretty brief scene, and I thought that written down it would be a lot shorter than this, but I clearly underestimated myself. I was trying to make it a rather emotional piece while still keeping Nagato and Kyon in character (a.k.a. trying not to make Kyon too sentimental, which was a bit challenging considering the whole atmosphere of the story). I hope Kyon's excessive thinking didn't get on everyone's nerves too much. That tends to happen when I try to get into a character's head.
One last note: the part where Yuki talks about Kyon's mentioning of their friendship is a reference to my other story starring Kyon and Yuki, "Heart-Shaped Words" (lamest title ever).
Thank you for reading! I always appreciate reviews and critique!